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Bodies (2004-06)

Courtesy of FremantleMedia

Main image of Bodies (2004-06)
Hat Trick for BBC Three, tx. 23/05/2004-13/12/2006
12x60 min episodes in two series plus 1 special, colour
DirectorsJohn Strickland
 Iain B. Macdonald
 Douglas Mackinnon
 Jed Mercurio
ProducerJed Mercurio
WriterJed Mercurio
Original novelJed Mercurio

Cast: Max Beesley (Rob Lake); Patrick Baladi (Roger Hurley); Neve McIntosh (Donna Rix); Keith Allen (Tony Whitman); Tamzin Malleson (Polly Grey); Susan Lynch (Maria Orton)

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Junior doctor Rob Lake, a new arrival in a busy Obstetrics and Gynaecology ward, soon finds himself in conflict with an alarmingly incompetent consultant. But the unwritten codes of silence make it difficult for him to speak out.

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Jed Mercurio, former doctor and creator of the groundbreaking Cardiac Arrest (BBC, 1994-96), originally published Bodies as a novel, having decided that his theme of medical incompetence, bureaucratic mismanagement and disaffected frontline staff would be more acceptable to a general readership than to television commissioning editors. Hat Trick Productions were to prove him wrong, however, and in 2004 provided BBC Three with an exemplary serial encompassing medical ethics, vicious hospital politics, adrenaline-charged theatre scenes and inter-medic sexual intrigue.

The choice of a labour ward added special poignancy to Bodies' succession of life or death medical emergencies, rendered ruthlessly credible by a well-observed script and eye-popping prosthetics and make-up work. These unbearably tense scenes played against the background of an Obstetrics and Gynaecology department struggling with a dangerously inept consultant, by turns sympathetic and deplorable (and played with great shading by Patrick Baladi). The dilemmas, challenges and compromises confronted by new member of the department Rob Lake were the backbone of the first series.

The second series justified its longer run by introducing new characters and expanding its critique of NHS politics, a move that may have diluted the tension of the main story thread but proved consistently compelling. The world portrayed was claustrophobic, despite the regular appearance of new patients. Scenes rarely took place outside the hospital, and spouses remained almost entirely offscreen. Mercurio revived the tangled web of allegiances and animosities for a one-off special, Bodies - The Finale (tx. 13/12/2006), taking up the story three years later. This played with the audience's expectations, providing few easy resolutions and concluding in defiantly downbeat style.

Although it was extravagantly praised by critics, Bodies' harrowing portrait of the contemporary NHS predictably upset the medical establishment. The British Medical Journal accused the series of lacking both a sense of perspective and "any feeling for the human warmth that keeps NHS staff going", prompting other medical practitioners to come to Mercurio's defence, praising his representation of the crisis on the wards and the hierarchy's uncompromising attitude towards whistleblowers. While contemporary series were depicting hospital life as soap (Holby City, BBC, 1999-), or farce (No Angels, Channel 4, 2004-06; Green Wing, Channel 4, 2004-07), Bodies stuck to its political agenda, with an account cataloguing systemic failures grim enough to alarm patients and NHS Trust managers alike, albeit without the overwhelmingly negative vision of G.F. Newman's earlier The Nation's Health (Channel 4, 1983).

Fintan McDonagh

Warning: the video clips associated with this title contain graphic representations of operations which some may find distressing.

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Video Clips
1. A disaster is averted (2:34)
2. A preventable death (2:35)
3. An emergency throat procedure (5:38)
Complete episode (57:55)
Cardiac Arrest (1994-96)
Medical Drama
TV Drama in the 2000s